The Menéndez File

Updates:

  • May 16: The Washington Post reported that the prostitution inquiry has not produced any evidence to show that Menéndez patronized prostitutes in the Dominican Republic. Agents are trying to track down the anonymous tipster who first made the claims in 2012. The paper said: "Agents have asked Dominican police to share their work tracking the tipster to a Santo Domingo cybercafe, two people familiar with the case said. From a video surveillance camera, Dominican police in early March obtained an image of a man leaving the cybercafe at the same time the tipster e-mailed a CNN journalist from there in mid-January. A copy of the image, reviewed by The Washington Post, shows a man in his 30s or 40s, wearing a linen button-down shirt and khaki pants."
  • April 2: Two maids who work for Solomón Melgen said FBI agents interviewed them in the Dominican Republic and pressured them to admit that Bob Ménendez took part in parties with prostitutes, the Miami Herald reported.
  • April 1: Solomón Melgen denied wrongdoing, telling Bloomberg: “I don’t have any business interests at all that have been helped by any politicians.” He described Bob Ménendez as a longtime friend and said the two are "like brothers."
  • March 22: ABC News reported that Dominican authorities are trying to identify a mystery man called "Carlos" who may have helped set up TV interviews with three women who say they were paid to lie about having sex with Bob Ménendez. ABC doubted the credibility of the women and never ran the interviews. The mystery man purportedly offered $5,000 for help in finding the women and may be tied with Republican operatives in the U.S., ABC said.
  • Mystery man named "Carlos" with one of the three women. Image: ABC News
  • March 18: Police in the Dominican Republic said a lawyer paid three women to falsely claim they had sex with Bob Menéndez, the Huffington Post reported. Police spokesman Maximo Baez told reporters that one woman received about $300 and two were paid about $425. Repeating what I first said on March 1, if this report is true, authorities should prosecute whoever was behind the smear campaign.
  • March 14: The Washington Post reported that a federal grand jury in Miami is investigating the senator's role in advocating for Salomón Melgen's business interests.
  • March 5: See new documents that say Menéndez was framed.
  • March 4: The Washington Post reported that a Dominican escort who had claimed in a videotaped interview that Bob Menéndez had paid her for sex now says she has never met the senator and was paid to lie.
In recent months, Sen. Bob Menéndez has faced serious accusations, from engaging in underage prostitution to violating federal ethics rules. He vehemently denies the claims and says they are "absurd" and part of a smear campaign.
This page pulls together a variety of documents, emails, articles and photographs related to the controversy, including travel and financial records and information about both Menéndez, 59, and his wealthy doctor friend, Salomón Melgen, 58.
In April 2012, an anonymous tipster going by the name "Peter Williams" told a Washington, D.C., watchdog group that Menéndez had engaged in underage prostitution in the Dominican Republic. The FBI is investigating that and other claims about the senator and the doctor.
Lourdes Meluzá with Menéndez
Menéndez, a Democrat from New Jersey, denied the accusations in a Feb. 9 interview with Lourdes Meluzá, Washington correspondent for Univisión News.
Those are lies intended to slander me, and they are completely, not only absurd, but they are completely false.”
If the informant Williams is lying, U.S. authorities should attempt to locate and prosecute him - or her - for making false statements to a federal agency, a crime that is punishable by up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
If the accusations against the senator are true, then authorities should determine whether Menéndez broke any laws or violated any ethical guidelines, and take appropriate action.

Sex tourism?

Williams contacted Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics, or CREW, on April 9, 2012, and expressed concern about the senator's travels with Melgen, a Florida eye surgeon and major campaign donor to Menéndez.
Williams said the two traveled in Melgen's private jet and stayed in his homes in La Romana and Santo Domingo.
He accused Menéndez of paying for sex with underage prostitutes in the Dominican Republic. Prostitution is legal on the island, but sex with minors is not.
CREW investigated the accusations. The group's executive director, Melanie Sloan, summarized CREW's findings in an eight-page letter and sent it to the Department of Justice and the FBI on July 17, 2012.
The letter stated:
...CREW's researchers attempted to confirm as many of the facts in Mr. Williams' emails as possible in an effort to assess the credibility of the allegations. While CREW has been unable to either prove or disprove that Sen. Menéndez engaged in sexual conduct with underage girls in the Dominican Republic, we have been able to confirm some of the information provided.
Melanie Sloan
Sloan, based in Washington, D.C., requested an immediate investigation into whether Menéndez:
  • Went to the Dominican Republic for the purpose of "sex tourism" and to engage in "illicit sex acts with underage prostitutes."
  • "Solicited the services of a prostitute in Florida."
  • "Violated the Mann Act," which makes it illegal to transport someone for the purposes of prostitution.
Sloan wrote that she was sending her letter to both the Justice Department and the FBI because she didn't trust that the FBI alone would properly investigate the accusations. She said the FBI had failed to take action after she reported accusations that then-Rep. Mark Foley may have had "inappropriate relationships" with House pages in 2006. So this time around, she wanted the Justice Department to also be aware of the accusations.

Sloan told reporters that Williams refused to speak with any CREW staffers by phone or meet with them in person. That - along with the timing of his accusations, coming before the November 2012 election - undermined the credibility of his claims, she said.

Williams corresponded with CREW's research director, Carrie Levine. See 56-page document containing their email correspondence from April 9, 2012, to June 23, 2012. Copied on some of the emails was Rhonda Schwartz, chief of investigative projects at ABC News.
Curiously, someone in Pennington, N.J., landed on CREW's website after doing a Google search for "Bob Menéndez CREW" on Feb. 22, 2012. Was that a Menéndez political rival in New Jersey? Then on April 16, 2012, someone in Santo Domingo wound up on CREW's site after searching for "carrie levine crew" and "crew Melanie." Could that have been the elusive "Peter Williams?"
Williams did not respond to an email sent to his Yahoo! address.

After CREW notified the FBI, Williams began corresponding with Regino E. Chavez, a special agent in the FBI's Miami field office.

See 58-page document containing purported copies of their email exchange, along with emails to and from CREW.

Chavez wrote Peters on Sept. 12:
As far as the information you have provided, we have been able to confirm most of it. We know that you are providing accurate information.
But Chavez wasn't able to interview the supposed prostitutes or speak with the anonymous tipster, according to the emails. On Nov. 1, the agent told Williams:
I think we are at the point where you and I need to communicate over the phone so that we can move faster.
FBI agents have not said whether they were eventually able to track down Williams.

An anonymous blog called Feds Investigation on Senator Robert Menéndez contains information about the FBI's investigation. The blog includes transcripts of interviews with supposed witnesses who have knowledge of the senator's nocturnal activities in the Dominican Republic. See a sampling of those interviews in this nine-page PDF.

Ethical questions

Menéndez, who is divorced, has not admitted any wrongdoing. But in January 2013, he paid Melgen $58,500 to reimburse him for two flights he took aboard the doctor's plane in 2010. The North Jersey Record quoted ethics watchdog Sloan as saying:
What he did was he waited to get caught and then he paid for it. He did violate the rules.
The senator's office told the newspaper that he did not need to disclose trips on private aircraft if he paid for them with personal funds. Sloan said that's incorrect. Senators must report such trips to the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Ethics.

According to a Dec. 10, 2012, letter from the committee to members of Congress:
Reports concerning gifts of travel or expenses of travel must be made to the Ethics Committee within 30 days of acceptance.
See text of law - 5 USC § 7342 - Receipt and disposition of foreign gifts and decorations.

The Middlesex County Republican Organization of New Jersey asked the Select Ethics Committee to investigate whether Menéndez violated the Senate Official Code of Conduct "and other applicable standards of conduct." The organization's five-page letter asks that the senator be punished if he behaved inappropriately:
His actions are precisely the type that result in the American people holding Congress in low regard, embarrass New Jerseyans, and bring dishonor to the Senate.
The Middlesex Republicans' request for an investigation included plane registration information, flight recordscopies of articles and photos, and other documents.

Private plane

I requested plane records directly from the FAA. The agency provided:
  • Registration records for Melgen's plane, a Canadair CL-600 Challenger (390 pages, 24 MB). This includes bills of sale, mortgage records and other information.
  • Airworthiness records for Melgen's plane (264 pages, 20 MB). These records include information on repairs to the aircraft and other records.
In February 2013, Melgen asked the FAA to block his plane's flight activity from public view in air traffic tracking systems. The FAA granted the request, allowing the doctor to keep his flight records secret. For more on that, see "Doctor now flying under the radar."

The villa

While in the Dominican Republic, Menéndez has stayed at Melgen's villa at Casa de Campo, a luxurious 7,000-acre beach resort in the town of La Romana on the southeastern coast of the Dominican Republic.

If a company owned the villa and covered the senator's lodging, then Menéndez would have to report it as a gift. But the property appears to be in the name of the doctor, not a company. A screenshot of the record, below, shows the owner as Salomón Emilio de Jesús Melgen Seman.


Melgen owns house No. 25 in the Ingenio section of Casa de Campo.


Prostitution accusations

Williams claimed several prostitutes have had contact with the senator. Two purported sex workers gave videotaped statements to the Daily Caller, a conservative website founded in 2010 by journalist Tucker Carlson and Neil Patel, chief policy advisor to Republican Dick Cheney during the Bush administration.

Matthew Boyle, then a reporter with the Daily Caller, broke the story, which quoted two women who claimed Menéndez paid them for sex at Casa de Campo sometime during Holy Week, from April 1 to April 7, 2012.
Melanio Figueroa
Speaking through a translator, the women asked that their identities be shielded because they feared reprisals. Dominican lawyer Melanio Figueroa accompanied them.
Lawyers in his office, Centro Juridico Figueroa & Asociados, said they have since lost contact with the women.

In a Jan. 5 statement, they wrote:
To all national and international journalists and/or reporters: 
Through this letter, we wish to inform you that this law office has had its power of attorney revoked by the girls who have made complaints related to the congressman from New Jersey, Bob Menéndez. 
In this sense, we have lost all types of contact with them since December 2012, so we appreciate your great concern for the future of each of them. 
Thank you very much - 
Dr. Melanio Figueroa



The search for the truth

The women's stories are difficult to verify. They could have been paid to lie about Menéndez. They claim they had sex with Menéndez and were paid through an intermediary who gave them $100 each instead of the promised $500.
Greater detail would strengthen the credibility of these interviews. Did they learn something about Menéndez that they could only know through close personal contact with him? Does he have any unusual habits or quirks? Is there a particular drink he favors? Does he have any tattoos, birth marks or notable scars from injuries or surgery?
The interviews with the purported sex workers don't provide such details.
The Miami Herald reporters searched for the prostitutes in the Dominican Republic and could not find them. The newspaper's Naked Politics blog reported on Feb. 3:
No concrete links have been made between Menendez and any prostitutes. Still, the allegations from the tipster, who identified himself as Peter Williams, were serious enough to launch an FBI probe. And shreds of evidence in Santo Domingo show that, at the very least, the women Williams described exist.
Senator's denials

In the Univisión interview, Menéndez complained about the anonymity of the accusations and said he was responding for the last time to questions about prostitution in the Dominican Republic. He said:
This is the last time I’ll do this, the last time I do it. Because it’s gotten to a level where the press, the legitimate press, not the leftist or the right-wing press, from the left, from the right or the left, where anonymous faceless and nameless people can make an accusation and the press will ask you this question. I could say something about you and say, “Hey, they’re saying this or that anonymously.” Those are lies intended to slander me...
Anonymous note
Anonymous claims

Williams, the informant, gave CREW a letter that he claimed was written by a prostitute who said she first had sex with Menéndez in 2008 “when I was 16 years old.”

In a handwritten note, she said:
I had intimate relations with him on more than one occasion.
The supposed prostitute said she was tall for her age and no one questioned whether she might be a minor.
The important thing for prostitutes entering the Casa de Campo resort, she wrote, was "to be young, very pretty, discreet and pleasant."
She recalled that a man named Rafael was the driver of Melgen's Mercedes-Benz.

The yacht

The sex worker claimed to have partied on a yacht along with Menéndez, Melgen and numerous females, including two "girls" who were "younger than me," women named Maria, Claudia, Yaneisy and an unnamed Brazilian.
Joining them, she said, was the owner of the yacht, Vinicio "Vinicito" Castillo Semán, a lawyer in Santo Domingo.
Vinicio "Vinicito" Castillo. Photo: Telenoticias
Castillo denied the accusation and told reporters that he would ask Dominican authorities to investigate the source of the claims.
Castillo is Melgen's cousin and a strategist for Fuerza Nacional Progresista, a Dominican political party.
His father, Vinicio "Vincho" Castillo, is a presidential adviser and president of the National Council on Drugs in the Dominican Republic.
Vinicito Castillo told reporters he has known Menéndez for years and has seen nothing but "impeccable and dignified" behavior. He added:
It's absolutely false and slanderous to say that I have been on trips or at parties with underage prostitutes with Sen. Robert Menendez and Dr. Salomon Melgen.
Miguel Franjul, left, Robert Menéndez, Salomón Melgen and Vinicio Castillo Semán
Port deal

Port of Samaná, Dominican Republic
Image: Google Maps
Vinicito Castillo told El Nuevo Herald that drug traffickers may be behind the prostitution accusations. Their goal, he contends, may be to prevent the government from installing X-ray scanners at the country’s ports.
Castillo didn't provide any evidence to support his claim.
Melgen holds a long-dormant government contract to install the X-ray scanners.  He is not only an eye surgeon, but an investor who has made - and lost - millions of dollars in speculative ventures over the years.
Melgen stands to gain $500 million, by some estimates, if the port contract is completed.
He contributed more than $700,000 to the senator's election campaign and to other Democrats in 2012, according to the Washington Post.
Menéndez has publicly called on the U.S. government to pressure Dominican authorities to enforce his friend's port contract.
So did Melgen's political contributions influence the senator's actions?
They did not, Menéndez told Univisión:
Well, nobody has bought me, No. 1 Nobody. Never. ...Never has it been suggested in the 20 years that I've been in Congress that that would be neither possible. Never in 40 years of public life. So I will not get to this point in my life for that to be a possibility. The reality is that if someone says, "It was wrong to talk about the politics of the Dominican Republic's ports to keep out drugs to the United States," no, I do not want drugs to enter the United States. I do not care whose contract it is or what government has it. I do care that we do not have drugs in this country. 
Medicare dispute

Menéndez has also faced questions about whether he improperly interceded in Melgen's efforts to resolve an ongoing dispute with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Federal health-care officials had accused Melgen of overbilling the government by $8.9 million care for treatment at his clinics.
In 2009 and in 2012, Menéndez contacted health officials and raised concerns about the government's findings, his aides told the Washington Post. The senator complained that the billing rules were ambiguous.
In late January, FBI agents raised Melgen's Florida offices and hauled away files, computers and other material. Inspectors from the Health and Human Services department assisted, indicating that Medicare fraud may be a focus of the investigation.
Melgen's lawyers deny any wrongdoing.
The Post said authorities are investigating whether Melgen was overbilling for vials of Lucentis, an expensive drug that is injected into the eye to treat macular degeneration.
Medicare reimburses doctors for $2,000 per vial, but Melgen may have been charging the government $6,000 to $8,000, the newspaper said.

Huffington Post blogger Gary Shapiro wrote:
Medicare reimburses injected drugs at the cost of the drug plus a percentage. Drug companies provide secret cash rebates to doctors. Doctors also get perks, like credit card points, the more they spend on drugs. The entire system incentivizes doctors to use the most expensive drugs, all of which leads to a costly Medicare problem. 
Of course, there is nothing wrong with a doctor seeing many patients and choosing to use an effective drug. However, if the FBI determines that Dr. Melgen used Lucentis, broke it into smaller doses and charged Medicare for the full dose, or used it with every patient that walked into his office, or injected it into eyes without macular degeneration, including prosthetic eyes, then the FBI can and should bring the hammer down on Melgen. 
Our nation is in a financial crisis largely driven by rising health care costs, and eye care medication, strange as it may seem, is a perfect example of this problem. Lucentis was found to be the single largest expenditure in Medicare's pharmaceutical budget in 2010. Another drug, Avastin, works just as well for $50 per dose as Lucentis does for $2,000 per dose.
The senator's office said in a statement that Menéndez didn't learn of the investigation until the January raid and had not interfered with agents' work.
In the Univisión interview, Menéndez denied pressuring the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services and said it was only a matter of "trying to correct a policy or bring attention to a policy that is sometimes confusing, ambiguous or incorrect."
Menéndez told Univisión:
Anyone who might have thought that I would interfere in a case to change the conclusion of this case is absurd. But the problem is not to interfere in an administrative issue. The issue is to understand a confusing policy.
Shapiro said if Menendez pressured the government to drop an investigation of Melgen in 2009, "then the facts on this must be disclosed and the guilty parties must be held responsible."

The doctor's medical practice is called Melgen Retina Eye Center, formerly the Vitreo Retinal Consultants Eye Center. Melgen started the practice in 1988 and has offices in West Palm Beach and three other cities. See company profile and biography of the doctor.

Life of the rich and famous

Williams, the tipster, told ABC News that a woman he called "Svetlana B." often traveled with Menéndez and the doctor on the jet and a yacht, and also visited Melgen's home.
The Miami Herald discovered the woman's real name: Svitlana Buchyk.

Boyle, the Daily Caller reporter who first wrote about the sex allegations against Menéndez, discovered a photo of Buchyk leaving what looks like Melgen's plane. Now with Breitbart News, Boyle wrote that the photo was posted to the woman's Flickr account with the caption:
On my way home yeayyyyy.

"On my way home yeayyyyy"



Buchyk's website describes her as an actress and model. She confirmed to the Herald that she had worked with Melgen, but declined to describe her work. She praised the doctor, saying:
He is an amazing person. He was always with his family. There is nothing else I can say. He treated me well. He had money. He was very generous.
Svitlana Buchyk. Photo: http://svitlanabuchyk.com/
Melgen evidently showed that generosity years earlier when he loaned a girlfriend $700,000.
He had met Yuddehiris "Judy" Dorrejo at the Ritz Carlton Hotel in Palm Beach in October 1998. They agreed that she would use the loan to open a Vertigo Clothing franchise in the Dominican Republic.
After the couple broke up, Melgen sued to recover his money.
Court papers filed in 2002 said she received the money by virtue of her "intimate romantic relationship" and had not broken any contract or agreement.
The money bestowed upon her by her lover, Melgen, was without obligation for repayment.
Circuit Court Judge John D. Wessel dismissed the case for lack of jurisdiction.
Ritz Carlton Hotel in Palm Beach, Fla. Photo: Ritz Carlton
Menéndez, the author

The senator's 2009 book, Growing American Roots, cites Melgen as an example of Latino success in the United States. The book states:

It would be hard not to mention a friend of mine, Dr. Salomón Melgen, a prominent, well-respected, enterprising ophthalmologist based in south Florida.
Dr. Melgen was already a physician when he came to the United States from the Dominican Republic in 1979, determined to make a life in this country. He had a simple reason:
I knew that the best medicine in the world was practiced here in the United States, and this is where I wanted to train and live.
Book touts Melgen's example
The obstacles were many - among other things, he hadn't learned English yet, and he faced prejudice from people who said he would never make the cut. Meanwhile, getting a permanent visa was arduous and frustrating. It took years to establish permanent residency; he is now a proud U.S. citizen.
His initial goal was to complete his education, specializing in ophthalmology. He was a top student in Santo Domingo - summa cum laude at the medical school of the National University Pedro Henríquez Ureña. He wanted to be a world-class physician.
Everybody was discouraging me, asking why I had come to this country. I was looking for a job, but they were telling me you're not going to get anything.
Although a doctor already, his first job in the United States was as a medical assistant, while waiting to pass the proficiency exams.
Through persistence, he showed doubters that he could master English and pass the required tests. By 1980, he was an intern at Yale University's Danbury Hospital; within five years, he progressed through residency at the University of Missouri and by 1985 was chief fellow at the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary at Harvard Medical School.
Perseverance and internal fortitude paid off in the face of insults. Especially before he could speak English well, other doctors in training "even laughed at me, treated me like nothing."
Salomón Melgen
Photo: El Nuevo Herald
Dr. Melgen said that the insults somehow didn't distract him from his goal.
I had an inner feeling that I was going to do whatever I had to do to make it. And I was trying hard.
Since 1998, he has been chairman of the organization that he founded, Vitreo-Retinal Consultants in West Palm Beach, and is a specialist in treating macular degeneration. He is also chief of ophthalmology at St. Mary's Hospital in West Palm Beach.

Additional documents related to Sen. Menéndez

LegiStorm, a non-partisan group that provides information about members of Congress, offers the senator's financial disclosure forms for the years 2003 through 2012, along with office expenses, cost of personnel and travel disclosure forms. Download the documents below:

Office expenses and Personnel


Financial Disclosure Forms



Travel Disclosure Forms

Menéndez is the chair of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations. On Feb. 25, he proposed that a budget not to exceed $3,866,195 for the period from March 14, 2013, through September 30, 2013.

Note: This article was shared with the Center for Democracy in the Americas as part of a six-month collaborative project with non-profit group. See more about our collaboration here.

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